Saturday, May 12, 2007

Experimental Meals

I've been cooking a bit more since I've been off work, but I'm not a whole lot less lazy. So, rather than looking up recipes, going to the store to get the ingredients and following the instructions, we've been having more and more "experiment nights," where one of us whips up something with whatever we have in the house. Sometimes these are a bust, but last night's result was so good that I had to share.


1 pkg soy tempeh 1/2 pkg noodles (cheap-o spaghetti, in this case) a lot of olive oil lots of garlic several baby carrots several grape tomatoes a bunch of spinach (low sodium) tamari/soy sauce 1 pkg tom yum soup (in this case, "TastyBite" brand) several tablespoons of mango chutney 1/2 can of fatty, delicious coconut milk a couple tablespoons of leftover Baker's coconut flakes a couple dollops of honey some dried lemongrass liberal sprinklings of cayenne pepper

It sounds like a lot, but it's basically what I found in our fridge and cabinets, save the tempeh and soup which I had bought that day for no real reason.

When I make meals like this, I like to do them as quickly as possible and make as few dirty dishes as I can. So, I'll do things like cutting carrots as if I was whittling rather than using a cutting board (maybe not faster, but it does add a frisson of danger to the cooking). Or, I'll shock and offend Mrs. Nator by using pre-chopped garlic, in which case you have to just throw in spoons and spoonsful of it, but you don't get garlic smell all over your hands and cooking utensils.

Everything is made in one pot, one deep sauté pan and a colander. I fry up the chopped carrots and tempeh in oil in the pan while boiling the water for the pasta in the pot. As that's going I cut and wash the tomatos and spinach in the colander. I toss some garlic, coconut, chutney and soy sauce into the pan as I toss the pasta into the pot. When the pasta's halfway done, I plop the soup, coconut milk, and other spices into the pan and stir. The pasta's done by now, so I toss it, along with its hot water, over the spinach and tomatoes in the colander, mixing them together and just barely cooking them in the process. Dump that mixture in with the stuff in the pan and mix, taste test, add maybe a little more pepper or honey or whatever I think it needs, and voilà! Our weird Thai-fusion experimental dinner is served.

This went really well with both cold Hoegaarden (a reasonably priced but tasty Belgian witbier with a touch of orange peel) and peach iced tea. It could probably have served three or four people, but we scarfed the whole pot.

The best part about this kind of cooking is the sense of adventure and ingenuity it brings. If it comes out poorly, it's merely a failed experiment, but if it comes out well, you're a genius! Plus, since you can adjust it to taste as you go, most of the time you end up with a yummy dish. The only downside is that you may not be able to duplicate it exactly again if you really liked it, but that is outweighed by learning a set of flavours that go well together and having them in the stockpile of your mind for future experiments. I can probably make something very similar should I have brown rice instead of pasta in the cabinet, or tofu instead of tempeh. Maybe next time it will have green beans instead of spinach, pineapple and green peppers instead of carrots and tomatoes, or orange juice and a touch of maple syrup instead of mango chutney and honey. You never know!

Have you had any experimental meals, lately? Discuss!


Doug said...

Last night, I made stir fry broccoli and tofu served over rice noodles with "brown gravy" (mushroom stock, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and potato starch as a thickener). Pad thai style, I threw on bean sprouts, shredded carrot, cilantro, chopped green onion. I liked it, my wife ate some of it, but my son objected. Don't know why, since he likes broccoli (but apparently not in gravy) and tofu (ditto).

Dope On The Slope said...

My big "experiment" is stir fried spinach and garlic to which I add big crumbles of Israeli feta cheese (from D'Vine Taste) about 2 minutes before I take it off the heat.

It's like a lighter, tangier version of creamed spinach.

Also, I mixed Fage full fat plain yogurt with salt, chopped fresh garlic and parsley leaves. Stick the immersion blender right into the container and voila, you have some sort of Middle-Eastern yogurty, garlicky, parsley sauce. It's damned good on just about anything.

claire said...

this is kind of stuff you have hanging around the house? i have to go shopping with you, i think...

and, sadly - no. no experimental dishes from me. i am too chicken to just make something up on the fly. chances are good it will taste like total slop. i hate to throw away food, even if its bad.

First Nations said...

that sounds soooo yummy! it's been years since i had miso in the house and i don't know why because it's so versatile and delicious.
you're working without a net here, lady. those are flavors that would never have occurred to me but seeing them down together i get it totally. not too shabby!!
creative cooking makes me happy!

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Da Nator said...

doug - don't take it too hard. Kids are picky; taste changes so much as you grow up. It sounds good to me!

dope - we make a labni-type yogurt thing like that, too! Although we try to avoid the using full-fat yogurt too often. Mrs. Nator uses a skimmer yogurt but strains it for a day or so in the fridge.

Oooh - the feta cheese in spinach sounds delish! I will have to make that.

Sorry, Claire. What I make doesn't always turn out great, either. But I bet the more you cook, the easier it will get for you.

FN - thanks. Yeah, miso is great. we don't normally have tempeh, either, because I'm not that big on it, myself, but if you fry it in enough oil and add enough spices? Yum.

"Chris" AKA random sex toy shop robot: Well, at least you got the right kind of store for me. Whee!

Tater said...

I experiment all the time. I try as much as possible, not to food shop at all. Being a food potographer, I can accomplish this by bringing food home from the studio. My field can be extremely wasteful, because once a food package is opened, most shelters or pantries refuse to take it. Food goes in the garbage if no one takes it home, or uses it at the studio in a timely fashion. I therefore have grand lunches made from whatever I can scrounge up around the studio, and the results are often fabulous. When the results aren't good, They end up where they would have had to go anyway. I have had some culinary training, but this forced resourcefulness has greatly enhanced my flavor pairings.

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Chaucer's Bitch said...

Ooh, that sound de-LISH! I want to try that. I'll probably have to go the Asian market for some of the ingreds, but i think i can get them all.

And Hoegaarden is my favorite beer!

Next time I'm in NYC, you are totally cooking me dinner, missy.